Although we are being enjoined from traveling, I took a ferryboat ride yesterday for the first time since the pandemic began.
Ferry service on San Francisco Bay has been canceled during weekends since March, which seems wrongheaded as it's hard to think of any form of public transportation that feels safer.
Watching the scenery go by as a chilly wind surrounded six passengers on a huge catamaran was heavenly.
From Jack London Square, I walked to the Oakland Amtrak station five blocks away, and bought a ticket for Emeryville, a ten-minute ride north.
The ticket was for the Capitol Corridor from San Jose to Sacramento but I mistakenly jumped on the San Joaquin, destination Bakersfield, on a near-empty train.
It was a fortuitous error because my scheduled Capitol Corridor train had just hit a vehicle in Santa Clara and burst into flames.
Those awaiting a Sacramento-bound train had to wait an additional couple of hours...
...but a choo-choo finally arrived to take them to their Christmas destinations.
We drove back to San Francisco, laughing about recent, vague warning signage at Amtrak station platforms. "Please be advised that travel TO San Francisco may be subject to a 10-day quarantine." San Francisco government is known for its occasional absurd pronouncements, but really, how in baby Jesus's name are they going to enforce that particular edict?
Desperate for some exercise after a week indoors working from home, we hiked from Civic Center to a deserted Union Square last Saturday, in between blessed, much-needed rainstorms on Friday and Saturday night.
From Union Square, we walked down Second Street to South Park. Even after 40 years of living in this city, I still keep stumbling across fabulous new oddities, like the Gran Oriente Filipino Masonic Temple on Jack London Alley, which is "Dedicated to the Supreme Architect of the Universe."
A block away at the SF Giants ballpark, the statue of Willie Mays is now framed by a Black Lives Matter banner, and no white supremecist Proud Boys have yet ripped it down.
We continued south to my favorite new public space, Mission Creek Park, where I sat on a bench while my partner went to Gus's Community Market for some of the best take-out sandwiches in town.
Across Mission Creek, I noticed a handmade sign in a set of windows thanking SF for their VOTE. We were very close to experiencing the American Nazi Fourth Reich with a Trump re-election, where the daily American insanity would have been exponentially worse. We have dodged that particular alternate reality, but it required a colossally bungled, murderous handling of a global pandemic.
We took our sandwiches over to the waterfront near the ballpark where the views and light were breathtaking.
There is a narrow fishing pier bordering the marina which was empty except for streetwise seagulls.
They were fearless around people...
...and even staged a few sandwich snatching maneuvers that would not been out of place in The Birds.
While watching the big container ships in quarantine, and small boats offering sailing lessons with everyone being masked...
...we noticed a larger charter boat that was hosting what looked like a stupid, unmasked, company Christmas party.
Continuing our hike down the Embarcadero, we passed by Piers 30-32 where there was a Christmas tree lot...
...fronting a large-scale drive-though and walkup COVID testing site for those lucky enough to have appointments.
The weekend Hayes Street closures to auto traffic have been uncrowded delights over the last couple of months...
...and have provided a lifeline to a few local restaurants and their staffs.
Sunday afternoon was the last day of this neighborhood experiment because the State of California decreed that we need to go back into shutdown mode again, for at least three weeks, while the pandemic advances into its most virulent, devastating phase this winter.
At the beginning of this pandemic, I finally read about the global 1918-1919 flu where the fatality rate was about 2.5%, which was about what early estimates were predicting for COVID-19. For some reason, I had always thought the early "Spanish Flu" epidemic featured a fatality rate of at least 20%, so when I read the 2.5% number, my first thought was, "Oh, fuck, we're in for it."
The behaviors between then and now are similar, starting with anti-mask contrarians demanding their personal and economic freedom, but the detail that struck me back in March was that the initial 1918 Spring pandemic was scary and deadly, but it was the fall and winter second phase when death truly stalked the globe.
The current shutdown is controversial but helpful, if only to remind people that the spread of this disease is exponential and it's serious.
I spent the afternoon on a one-person concrete stool in Patricia's Green happily watching fashionable characters walk by, and even got to witness an influencer carrying a skateboard being interviewed about his vision while being filmed by a third party.
The couple above were my favorites, the sweetest pandemic couple bubble of the day as they shared ice cream nearby.
Walking home by Anina's outdoor patio, I had a sudden realization that bars and churches seemed to be taking the pandemic restrictions the hardest, and they are bizarrely similar: seriously dangerous for pandemic transmission while being all about community, ritual, and friends. My advice to both groups: create some new habits for the next six months.
Amidst the awfulness of our global pandemic, there are a few personal silver linings.
For instance, Barry lives in San Francisco where he works for the school district.
His spouse, Grant, works as an environmental planner in Palm Springs.
They have been together for 24 years, but as a long-distance relationship for the last decade, until the pandemic arrived and the two were finally able to live and work together on a daily basis again in Palm Springs.
Last Sunday we went on a walk down the major desert wash that runs through Palm Springs and further into the Coachella Valley, diverting flash floods after sudden rainfalls.
The riverwalk off of Palm Canyon near Sunny Dunes is a lovely, little-known, wide sidewalk where bicyclists, dogwalkers, and pedestrians are slow and considerate with each other, a miracle in itself.
There are trails in the wash itself that are improbably beautiful...
...partly because they are so wild...
...with a minimum of the usual Palm Springs manicuring of the desert.
We walked back to downtown through the Warm Sands neighborhood, which is midcentury modern posh at its eastern end.
Above one household, a flagpole defiantly displayed a Trump 2020 banner...
...a reminder that the fascist lunatics activated by that monster are still in full battle mode.
A couple of blocks away in the sluttier, gayer section of Warm Sands, we passed a delightful house with a cow and a flying pig on the roof, and a flagpole with a gay pride and a U.S. flag resting together. It's time to take our country back.